Acrylic gouache is an interesting medium that I’ve been using for the last year or so. Since I’ve started using it I’ve gotten asked a lot about what it is and how it is different from regular gouache.
I’ll start with a little background info about me. I’ve been a watercolor painter for years. It has been my go-to medium since I started painting. But I’ve always been one to experiment so on occasion tested out different media. I’ve wanted to learn a more opaque form of paint, like acrylics, gouache, and oils. I’ve been a bit hesitant to ever try oils because I’m so used to how quickly watercolors dry, I don’t know how I’d feel with such a slow drying paint. So I decided to try out acrylic paints several years ago. I did a few paintings with them… I just never really took to them. My main complaints were that because they dried so quickly it was hard to blend smoothly (this was before I knew about acrylic retarders), and I didn’t like how shiny they dried. The shine combined with the brush strokes that dried into it, made scanning my acrylic paintings very difficult. There was a lot of post-scan editing to edit out reflections and shadows, particularly with darker paintings. I wasn’t a fan. Now if I’d known about acrylic retarders back then to slow the drying time, then I’m sure the shine would have been my main complaint.
Next, I decided to give gouache a try. Regular gouache paint is a water-based paint like watercolor, only instead of being transparent, gouache is very opaque. I’ve been using white gouache to highlight my watercolor paintings forever, but I’d never done an entire painting in gouache. I thought since it was so similar to watercolors in a lot of ways that it would be the easiest for me to learn. My first attempt didn’t go very well. One mistake that I made was trying a different paper than I usually work on with my watercolors. I decided to try out this colored paper called Art Spectrum Colourfix Paper. When using this paper, the gouache wouldn’t blend without lifting up the layers underneath. It was very frustrating! Everything was a streaky mess. I gave up. I little while later I tried gouache on my usual watercolor paper, and had a much easier time. My painting “Harlequin” was that painting. Lifting could still be an issue, but it was much less of one on watercolor paper.
Then came my “Spirit Guides” painting last year. I wanted to paint it in gouache on blue colored paper. I still had several sheets of the Art Spectrum paper left, so I decided to give that another try… and the same thing happened again. A streaky mess when it came to blending. I wanted a solution that didn’t require me starting completely over because miraculously the background had turned out okay, but I encountered this issue when it came to painting her skin.
I remembered seeing Acrylic Gouache in some of my art supplies catalogs. This paint is described as being a sort of Gouache/Acrylic hybrid. It is opaque like both paints, dries to a matte finish like gouache does, but once it is dry, it dries permanently like acrylics. So theoretically, if I was painting say… skin, the first layer of color would dry down entirely so when I blended additional layers over top the bottom layers wouldn’t be reactivated by the wet paint and lift and streak.
There are a few brands available of acrylic gouache. Holbein, Turner and Jo Sonja are some examples. Jo Sonja is technically now marketed as matte flow acrylics, but older tubes say acrylic gouache on them, and from what I can tell, they work just the same. I decided to try out Turner Acryl Gouache first, because they are so affordable, just in case I didn’t like them. The picture at the beginning of this post are the first 7 tubes that I purchased.
Once they arrived, I dove back into my painting and this time I finally had success! I won’t say that there were no struggles. I hadn’t used acrylic paint in years so I had to sort of learn all over again. I found that painting with acrylic gouache is much more like painting with acrylics than like gouache. The finished product looks much like a gouache painting with it’s velvety, matte finish. But the techniques that go into painting with it are pretty much just like acrylic painting.
I use a homemade sta-wet palette, which uses a tupperware-like plastic container. I use the lid and line it with a few layers of wet paper towel and then put a layer of parchment paper over top. Then, when closed up, you can store your paint in between painting sessions without having to remix all new paint every time. It works great. I am thinking of buying a sta-wet palette just for the extra room. I haven’t yet found a bigger container that I liked.
I’ve used this paint a lot over the last year or so. Sometime exclusively, sometimes mixed with my other mediums. I really love it and it is everything that I wanted from acrylics and gouache separately but couldn’t get. I’ve used it on paper, wood, claybord panels. It’s worked pretty great on everything. Though I’m not crazy about claybord, so I seal the surface first. It is more like gesso-bord when I get done with it. Also about six months ago, I tried out an acrylic retarder with this paint, because I had the same blending issues with it as I did regular acrylic paints. Now they really do work like a dream! Adding a drop or 2 of retarder to your paint gives you way more blending time, and makes it work almost how I imagine oils would be. And if you want it more fluid but not less opaque, you can use a flow medium. I’ve gotten a lot of use out of that too for small details and lines.
Pictured to the right, is my most recent painting using acrylic gouache. “Stranded” is painted on sealed claybord. I use an acrylic glazing medium to seal it and stop claybord’s super absorbent surface properties. I would say that this painting went the most smoothly for me of all the ones I’ve done in the medium. I hope that that is a sign that I’m finally becoming comfortable with it. My goal is for it to become as second nature to me as using watercolor is. After the painting was done, I varnished it with a matte varnish. In the future, I will be sealing them first with a glazing medium before applying the varnish. Some of the detailing in her scarf was blurred by the varnish and I had to paint it back in. After some research, I’ve read that it is good to seal it first because the paint can absorb some of the water-based varnish, and if it is a fairly fresh painting, there is a chance it might smear or lift. Paintings that I’d varnished that I’d finished months prior to varnishing did not have this occur because the paint was really set. But if you can’t wait months to varnish, sealing it with a clear glazing medium first can help. A spray varnish, like Krylon Kamar Varnish, also works to seal it first. I used that for this painting after touching up her scarf, and before adding more matte varnish. I also like Jo Sonja’s mediums and vanishes.
I hope that this was helpful information for any curious about acrylic gouache. I would like to put together a tutorial in the future for this medium. I just want to get a bit more comfortable with it myself, before I try to teach others how to use it. 😉